Inspired and Empowered: Jewish Social Justice, MLK Legacy and NFTY Southern

By Alexa Broida

I had the pleasure of spending MLK weekend with NFTY Southern in Memphis at their “Kallah Clave” social justice weekend. Back in the fall, the NFTY Southern Regional Advisor, Becci Jacobs, reached out to Mitzvah Corps as a partner in the visioning of the event and we began brainstorming together. Being able to have been not only a guest, but a part of planning the event, gave me additional insight into the depth of dedication of the planning process. Over the last few days, as I’ve begun to really process the significance of the event and to find the words to even begin to do justice to the incredibly powerful experience that the team there put together, I’ve continued to feel inspired and empowered.

From the moment the teens arrived on Friday evening, there was an intentionality and palpable positive energy that you could just feel. The Jewish professionals, parents, and lay leaders worked in true collaboration, communicating efficiently and effectively, and maximizing the time the group had together to set an incredible tone and framework for the rest of the weekend. On Saturday, NFTY Southern regional board member Andrew Rogers delivered one of the most powerful divrei Torah that I’ve heard, weaving the theme of power and privilege as it existed from the times of the Torah through to the ways it affects our lives today.

From there, we spent a moving morning at the Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, following a historical civil rights journey, with the staff providing a uniquely compelling and under-told supplemental narrative of the difference between the role that Northern Jews played alongside MLK, and that of their ancestors, Southern Jews. It ended with a clear call to action for the teens to pick up where their grandparents couldn’t, by marching alongside their community members, and we moved from there to a flawlessly organized day of service with the entire Memphis community. Rather than simply volunteering, the team created an event that led up to service being the central component, and provided opportunities for meaningful relationship building between the NFTYites and the local community. The shared objectives were clear, and the methodology provided what so many teens said, and I concurred, which was that it was, “by far the most meaningful community service” they’ve ever engaged with. The local news even showed up!

The teens had developed a clear and compelling vision for the event, and were able to maintain that cohesive thematic arc throughout the entire weekend. They challenged their peers to think differently and to take ownership over their communities and their roles in the continuation of the fight for justice. The partnership between this event and Mitzvah Corps is clear; we are working together to provide year-round opportunities like this one in communities around the world.

Never have I felt more welcomed into a community, both personally and on behalf of Mitzvah Corps. I am so grateful to have had the experience, and kol hakavod to all who were involved!

Alexa Broida is the Coordinator of URJ Mitzvah Corps.